A Missouri man admitted Tuesday that he was the driver of big yellow trucks that were caught dumping waste at the Mississippi County landfill for free in 2017 and 2018, in exchange for paying bribes to landfill operator Wil Allen.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker accepted a guilty plea from Joe Harlon Hamlett to a charge of aiding and abetting honest-services wire fraud. Hamlett faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when sentenced next year.
On Oct. 8, a federal jury in Baker's court convicted Hamlett's boss, James David Ross, of the same charge, finding that he defrauded Mississippi County and the state of $54,155 by bribing Allen to let him dump numerous loads of demolition debris for free.
Allen pleaded guilty in September to accepting bribes to let Ross' trucks avoid a weigh station and corresponding bills. He is awaiting sentencing.
The charges stemmed from an FBI investigation into activities at the landfill near Burdette.
Federal prosecutors said the three men aided and abetted each other in depriving the governments of Allen's honest services as a public official. They said the scheme turned into mail fraud when the county mailed false quarterly reports about the amount of waste dumped at the landfill, and related checks, to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The exact amount of money that the scheme prevented the county and the state from receiving through dump fees and a surcharge the county pays to the department isn't known because both amounts are based on the amount and type of material that is dumped, and Ross' trucks were allowed to bypass the scales and avoid inspections. But Hamlett's plea agreement says the parties have stipulated to $54,155 as the amount of loss.
Allen testified at Ross' trial that each of the loads would have cost Ross' Kennett, Mo., company $200 to $220 to dump, and prosecutors said Ross Farms/Trucking dumped at least 225 loads at the landfill between April 2017 and late August 2018, but only paid for 31 of them.
The dump is about 45 miles from the company headquarters.
Prosecutors said Ross charged his demolition customers $600 to $650 for each load of debris he hauled to the dump, though he paid Allen only $100 for each load.
Allen testified that he made $18,000 to $20,000 through the scheme, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin O'Leary said Ross saved about five times as much as that.
Ed Jernigan, a now-retired FBI agent based in Jonesboro, testified at Ross' trial that an investigation began after employees at the landfill contacted the FBI. Jernigan said an employee reported that he had noticed a bright yellow truck dump demolition debris at the landfill about 50 times without first crossing the scales to be weighed.
Jernigan said he found several trucks and large yellow dumpsters they were capable of hauling at the Missouri trucking company.